What to know before adopting a guinea pig
If you’re thinking about adopting a guinea pig, here’s what you need to know about guinea pig nutrition, housing and more!
Careful consideration before adopting, including research and planning, plus plenty of love, patience and a sense of humour, will foster a strong and loving relationship that will help you discover the joy of guinea pigs, and make you friends for life!
A complete daily guinea pig diet consists of an unlimited supply of Timothy hay, plenty of fresh vegetables, a small amount of guinea pig pellets enriched with vitamin C, and a small portion of fruit. Guinea pigs develop individual food preferences, but some common favourites include:
- Snap peas
- Romaine lettuce
Fresh water should always be available and is best provided in a sipper bottle on the side of their enclosure.
In addition to good nutrition, guinea pigs benefit greatly from supervised exercise outside of their primary enclosure. This space should be in a safe, well-secured room with no access to cords, wires, stairs or open vents. Provide your pet with toys to play with and a special place to hide.
The teeth of guinea pigs constantly grow, which means that chewing items are essential for their dental health. Hay, firm vegetables and non-toxic wood chews are great additions to their enclosures for this purpose.
Males can be neutered by veterinarians who are very familiar with guinea pig surgery. By neutering males, they can be paired with females while preventing unwanted pregnancies. Other pairings that work well are females together and males who were raised together.
Allow your guinea pig to sniff your hand and use his or her favourite foods to gain their trust. Once they are comfortable, pick them up gently and slowly. Gently place one hand behind their front legs, cupping their chest, while using the other hand to support their hind end and back feet at all times. Guinea pigs are most comfortable when horizontal and close to your body or on your lap.
Jumping down can cause serious injury to guinea pigs, so handling them while sitting on the floor is safest. Guinea pigs should not be picked up or carried by young children, as they can easily free themselves from a child’s grasp.
Nail trimming should be done monthly and can be easily demonstrated by a veterinarian or an RVT. Both long and short-haired guinea pigs will also need regular brushing, with a soft baby brush.
Cages should be as large as you can accommodate. The minimum size for a cage for one or two guinea pigs is 7.5 square feet, but the larger you can accommodate the better. The best location for your guinea pig’s enclosure is in a shared part of your home where your guinea pig can be part of the family and monitored closely, out of direct sunlight, off the floor protected from other family pets.
Enclosures should have solid bottoms to prevent foot injuries and be lined with shredded newspaper, grass hay, aspen or hardwood shavings. Remove soiled shavings daily and give the enclosure a thorough cleaning each week.
As guinea pigs are startled easily, a hiding place must be provided. They should have access to a hiding place at all times, for when they need some quiet time. To promote the health of your guinea pig, items such as toys, hammocks and platforms with ramps should be added to their enclosure. The list of toys is endless, but some very affordable items include:
- Paper bags stuffed with hay
- Ping pong balls
- Paper towel rolls (cut lengthwise)
Guinea pigs are very social animals and are happiest when they have another guinea pig companion, and attention from their human family members. Even well-socialized guinea pigs may nip if startled, which is why it’s recommended that they be handled by adults and older children.
Guinea pigs have good colour vision and great hearing, enabling them to learn to respond to specific sounds. With some patience and persistence, they can even be trained to use litter boxes!
Things to avoid
Avoid the following potential hazards to provide your pet guinea pig with a safe environment:
- Sawdust, cedar, pine and corn-cob bedding can cause illness and toxicity
- Exercise balls and running wheels that are not designed for guinea pigs can result in serious injuries
- Access to treated or painted wood
- Unsupervised time with young children, outdoors or free-roaming in the house
- Poisonous foods such as rhubarb, chocolate, potato, seeds and nuts
- Placing the cage in constant direct sunlight, a garage or a laundry room
- Providing grass, clover or dandelions from a yard treated with pesticides or fertilizers
Guinea pigs live, on average, four to eight years so be sure you’re ready for the commitment before adopting. Some guinea pigs may live as long as 10 years!
If you’re interested in adopting a guinea pig, keep your eye on the Ontario SPCA adoption site to watch for guinea pigs looking for a loving home.
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